PARIS, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- France is preparing for the return of scores of French jihadists, most of them children, who were held by Kurdish authorities in Syria after the United States announced the withdrawal of its forces from the war-torn country, French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said on Thursday.
"The new situation, which is prompted notably by the withdrawal of U.S. forces, has changed the facts and obviously we are preparing for a possible return of the French who are currently in northern Syria," Belloubet told RTL radio.
"Nothing is certain, of course. But this is no longer the only scenario. ... If the French who are detained by the Kurds should be released, expelled, I believe that it is in our interest to make sure (we know) what they become rather than leaving them without knowing where they would be," she said.
Local news channel BFMTV reported on Wednesday that 130 French jihadists would be released in the coming weeks.
It is "very difficult to accurately assess" the number of jihadists who would be repatriated, Belloubet said.
"We are not able to tell exactly how many French people are in all the camps. We cannot locate them," she explained, adding that most of them should be children.
According to the minister, "all those who will return to France will be entrusted to the judges, placed in custody and may be indicted as soon as they arrive in France," because "the fact of having gone to a field of combat already constitutes an offense that is punishable."
"We have several prisons in France that are able to accommodate this type of prisoners. ... We are taking all measures to, of course, ensure the safety of the French, which is our first priority," she said in response to critics who consider the repatriation of jihadists irresponsible.
France has previously expressed a preference for their citizens held in Iraq and Syria and who fought with the Islamic State to be prosecuted there on fears of growing militancy at home.
Meanwhile, France has also pledged to examine the cases of women and children case by case.
The Eurozone's second largest economy has become a major target of terrorist attacks following its military operations in Syria, Iraq and the Sahel region.
A wave of attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, had broken the calm several times in France. The bloodiest terror attack took place in Paris on November 2015, when a series of explosions and shootings left 130 victims.